I would be happy to connect with your book club either in person in the greater Boston area or via Skype. Please use my contact form if you’re interested and I’ll be in touch! I’ve included discussion topics below that I hope will inspire lively conversation and debate. Thanks so much for reading!
Book Club Discussion Topics
1. Winter Loon is written in the voice of a reminiscent or retrospective narrator. How does Wes’ adult voice figure into how the story is told? How might Winter Loon have been different if Wes was a teenage boy telling his story?
2. Certainly Winter Loon is a bleak story but hope is threaded throughout. At one point, Wes says that “hope is heavy.” Do you agree with that? Where did you find hope in Winter Loon?
3. Gip and Ruby are hardened, bitter people who lash out at the slightest provocation. Yet both have subtle and sometimes disturbing tenderness about Valerie and her death. Gip first: Did you ever feel any sympathy for him at all? Did you ever imagine what experiences he might carry with him that made him the kind of man he was?
4. Ruby is a complex and vexing character. Did reading Winter Loon make you wonder what it would be like to wake up in the skin of a person so bitter, so damaged? What made Ruby go on? Did you see it coming, Ruby’s decision on how she would break with her past and with Wes?
5. While there’s no specific religion discussed in the book, Wes thinks about God and how that higher power might have intervened to save Valerie. Ruby, in what might be labeled a heartless act, says that God wasn’t there when Valerie died, that Wes was the one who let Valerie drown. Can you imagine a time when Ruby prayed to God? What would she have asked for? Given how her life turned out, how might her bitterness have been a reflection of her perception that prayers went unanswered?
6. Intergenerational trauma is the idea that the aftermath of traumatic experiences can lead to a continuation of that trauma through generations, a cycle of continued abuse or violence. How do Wes and Jolene see their circumstances in the same way? How are they different? Why was Mona able to give protection to Jolene in a way that neither Ruby or Valerie were able to give to Wes? How does this shared trauma play out for Wes and Lester and their friendship?
7. The #MeToo movement came decades too late for the characters in Winter Loon. How might the women in this story have sought justice for the crimes committed against them? How might moving this story ahead forty years change the course of their lives? Would they have spoken up? Would they have sought justice? Is justice color blind? It is blind to socioeconomics?
8. There’s a summer scene in Winter Loon when Wes and Jolene are at the river. The writer employs all the senses to describe the river bottom. It’s arguably the place where Wes and Jolene fall in love, a place Wes returns to as winter approaches, when he believes he’s lost her. Wes also goes back to Bright Lake in summer memories and in winter. How does the changing seasons of Winter Loon, the changes in the river and lake throughout the year, model the traditional Ojibwe story that Troy tells Wes about Ziigwan and Biboon? What role do our senses play in memory? What is “the stuff of memory?” Can you recall a memory of your own that is stuffed with sensory triggers?
9. While Winter Loon is Wes Ballot’s story, it’s also the story of the women in his life—Valerie, Ruby, Kathryn, Jolene, Mona, Aveline, and Annaclaire. In what ways do these women shape and shelter him, despite or because of the wounds they’ve suffered?
10. What is broken in Wes and what about the ending of the story allows him to heal? How might things have gone another way for Wes if he had chosen a different path at critical scenes? The morning after Gip enters his bedroom? After he meets Topeka? After the fire? After that last Christmas?
11. Why do you think the author chose to end the book where she did? How does the discovery of that narrative moment—the place and time from which Wes tells his story—inform what he shares and what he does not? Were you satisfied with the ending?
12. Who is the Winter Loon?